ON CONGRESS, ACCOUNTABILITY & NATIONAL SECURITY

ON CONGRESS, ACCOUNTABILITY & NATIONAL SECURITY

Eight years, soon nine and yet, so little learned! SSDY! -- Same Sh--, Different Year! -- That about sums up lessons learned from the “War on Terror,” 9/11/2001 - present. What caused 9/11? Recall Pogo, look in the mirror and repeat after him: “We have found the enemy and he is us.” Because the ineptitude and incompetence of our own government was responsible. There were ample forewarnings and pieces of intelligence but no one “connecting the dots.” Same for the Ft. Hood terrorist killings. Repeat for the latest airline incident, where tragedy was averted by decentralized citizen action, by passengers, not by our centralized, so-called “intelligence” system.

The relevant lessons and forewarnings go back way before 9/11 -- to the 1983 report issued following the Lockerbie tragedy. A report much later made similar recommendations -- the Kean Commission Report following 9/11 -- more recommendations not implemented; those to be implemented ignored or put on back burners. Now, we’re seeing and hearing news and Presidential reports of similar failings behind the Ft. Hood shootings and the attempt to blow up the recent Amsterdam-Detroit flight with nearly 300 souls on board. There’s a remarkable congruity of factors. In all cases, personnel in the responsible intelligence agencies failed to share information that, if acted upon, would have forestalled or prevented terrorist acts that, all told, have snuffed out over 3,000 lives.

The fundamental factors behind the repeated failures of “intelligence” systems are cultures of bureaucracy and corruption. By now, the culture of bureaucracy has become agonizingly familiar. It is a culture of “turfmanship“, “knowledge is  power,“ information held “close to the vest,” departmental rivalries, “mine is not yours“ and “how you think depends on where you sit.” All these aspects militate against data and information sharing, let alone exercise of the 3C’s -- communication, cooperation and collaboration.

A culture of corruption is what we too often see at work in the Congress. It is a culture of “dialing for dollars” to seek reelection from day one of election, thus neglecting the responsibilities of governing; getting information from big-donor lobbyists and bureaucrats rather than independent sources, and forging cozy relationships with bureaucrats who direct key agencies of the government. These features are adverse to Members carrying out major responsibilities of their office(s), including care in the deliberation and drafting of legislation, implementation and oversight of implementation of laws passed, and responsibility to honor our Constitution. 

Congress responded to the bureaucratic failings noted above by establishing an even bigger, more unmanageable bureaucratic monster -- the Department of Homeland Security. As if big-government reorganization or consolidation of agencies can solve a problem that’s rooted in bureaucratic behaviors! Then Congress neglects responsibility for oversight. So, you get ridiculous situations like Nancy Pelosi denying responsibility for intelligence failures by claiming she wasn’t briefed, as if the agencies were trying to withhold information from the Congress even though the law calls for them to brief members of the intelligence oversight committees!   

Specific rules, practices and procedures of Congress are another basic source of what is wrong. These include the committee structure of Congress, which is ill suited to deal with nearly every major issue. There are 82 congressional committees or subcommittees with responsibility for oversight on some aspect of national security. This amounts to another dysfunctional mishmash that mirrors the fragmentation of bureaucratic responsibilities for national security among a number of agencies. The knowledge-base is another mishmash, governed by varying levels of security classifications and clearances. The legal basis established by Congress for collecting intelligence has also been problematic, with some methods like illegal wiretapping infringing upon basic constitutional liberties.

The most serious and harmful tendency of Congress, however, has been reactionary -- reacting more than deliberating and legislating on fear, of terror. It would not be surprising, for example,  to see Congress soon reauthorize three provisions of the Patriot Act adverse to our liberty and privacy, in reaction to the “underpants bomber” incident.  Earlier, we had seen Congress follow President Bush like lemmings over a cliff into Iraq. One could cite many more examples of how Congress has become “reactionary.” This tendency runs with two others mentioned earlier -- Congressional short-term-itis and corruption. Both are also rooted in fear -- Members’ fears of not getting reelected. 

Even while spending valuable time “dialing for dollars” to raise at least $10,000 per week for reelection campaigns, however, Congress finds time to do some meddlesome micro-managing. A recent example is Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s co-sponsorship of legislation to prevent airports from using full-body scanners as their primary security tool. How to foil underwear bombers, Carol!

Thus, it’s important for people to look for Congressional candidates of a different quality in this election year. “We the People“ need Representatives who are:

v      Farsighted, looking to do what is right for the future rather than reelection -- especially candidates who are true activists, willing to raise hell to change the way Congress operates;

v      Thoughtful and deliberative, not reacting to media headlines and immediate political pressures;

v      Devoted to openness, accountability and transparency, starting with reports of how they use their own congressional salary, time and office resources, and how well they report to constituents what they need to know on issues and on what really goes on in Washington.

v       Scientific -- looking for evidence and evaluations of what people want and need and of what works where and how before voting, not voting on the basis of ideology, media rants and raves or hearsay -- “Give me the facts, ma’am, nothing but the facts!” 

v      Devoted to liberty and freedom…Empowering citizens rather than a over-centralized government already bloated with power and money. 

 

PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., International Consulting Economist and Republican Candidate for Congress, NH CD 1, January 15, 2010.